Bangladesh’s recent victory in securing rights to its continental shelf, stretching 350 nautical miles from the Chattogram coast, following legal battles with India and Myanmar, presents a significant opportunity for the nation’s blue economy.

However, economists are cautioning that failure to act promptly may hinder the nation’s ability to fully unlock the potential post its graduation from Least Developed Country (LDC) status.

Economists stress the importance of meeting various World Trade Organisation (WTO) conditions, particularly those relating to incentives for the fisheries sector in LDC graduate countries.

One such condition dictates that the marine fish catch of the concerned country must remain below 1%. Bangladesh, currently leading in open-water fishing, exceeds this threshold with a global share of over 1% in marine fish catch, including the prized Hilsa.

During a knowledge sharing session on the upcoming “13th Ministerial Conference of the WTO: What Stakes for Bangladesh?” held in Dhaka on Thursday, economists advocated for providing incentives to develop marine fishing infrastructure or excluding Hilsa from the marine fish definition, considering its significant contribution despite being a freshwater fish.

Organised by the local thinktank Research and Policy Integration for Development (RAPID), with support from the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office of the United Kingdom, the session emphasised the importance of strategic planning ahead of the conference scheduled from 26-29 February in Abu Dhabi.

Mustafizur Rahman, a distinguished fellow of the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), highlighted the challenges Bangladesh would face regarding fisheries subsidies post-graduation.

He pointed out that while subsidies are permissible for developing countries with a marine fish catch below 0.8%, Bangladesh exceeds this threshold. Mustafizur Rahman suggested revising the calculation of marine fish catch, highlighting the importance of accurate data presentation.

Mashiur Rahman, economic affairs adviser to the prime minister, supported this view, stating that Hilsa caught in Bangladesh should not be classified as a marine fish. He underscored the opportunity to rectify the information provided to the WTO and the lack of preparedness in Bangladesh to harness marine resources effectively.

RAPID Chairman MA Razzaque underlined the need for substantial investments and government subsidies to facilitate deep-sea fishing, given the challenges posed by natural calamities.

He highlighted the necessity for large ships, trained fishermen, modern equipment, and security measures to protect against piracy, underscoring the pivotal role of government incentives in attracting private sector investment.

Razzaque suggested that the exclusion of Hilsa from the marine fish catch list, coupled with the WTO application, could alleviate some challenges.

Economists also identified key issues for Bangladesh at the WTO conference, including negotiations on fisheries subsidies, border reforms, and dispute settlement system improvements.

CPD fellow Mustafizur Rahman stressed the importance of advocating for the interests of developing countries during WTO negotiations, especially considering Bangladesh’s impending graduation in November 2026.

He urged the country to prepare for reforms, considering potential challenges post-graduation, such as losing TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Right) waivers.

Sharifa Khan, senior secretary, Economic Relations Division, Ministry of Finance, highlighted the necessity for Bangladesh to meet international standards and conventions, including human rights and the rule of law, to maintain duty-free market access in European countries beyond 2029.

The event witnessed participation from various stakeholders, including the Executive Director of RAPID Dr M Abu Eusuf, trade policy analyst Mostafa Abid Khan, and representatives from prominent media outlets.



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